Hometown: St. Albans, England
Members: Ed Macfarlane, Jack Savidge, Edd Gibson
For Fans Of: Ra Ra Riot, Holy Ghost!, Two Door Cinema Club
Nothing like spending a month in a cottage in northern France to clear your head. That’s where Ed Macfarlane, frontman of UK-based three-piece Friendly Fires headed after the whirlwind that followed his band’s self-titled debut. After a split 12” with friends Holy Ghost!, a DJ compilation entitled Suck My Deck and an appearance on Pete Tong’s famed BBC Radio One Essential Mix, Macfarlane needed to get away. He arrived at his retreat around one in the morning, started a log fire and unplugged from the world, settling in to ponder the new record. By the time he returned to the bustle of London, he had a load of sketches for the band.
Macfarlane is calling from a windy day in the UK to discuss the band’s new record, Pala, dreamed up in that cottage. A tropical affair, the sophomore effort is more polished and refined. The debut showcased a range from guitar-driven hooks to more ethereal dance numbers, but, as Macfarlane tells it, when they recorded it, the boys were still discovering their sound. By the end of the process, they had settled in to a disco-inspired groove with the infectious “Jump in the Pool.” A later single, “Kiss of Life,” expanded on that vibe, and it was that same style that inspired Pala. “When we record a song, we never worry about the consequences of whether it can be played live or not,” Macfarlane says. “I like the idea that in the studio you should be free to do whatever you want, and if it makes the track sound better, you should use it.”
Layers of instrumentation, synth sequences and chorusing vocals result in dance-fueling pop songs. When he first heard it, XL Recordings head Richard Russell compared the record to the Bee Gees’ 1979 classic chart-topping album, Spirits Having Flown.
“Colorful, vibrant, beautiful-sounding pop music,” is how Macfarlane describes it. “It’s very uplifting and summery sounding. I think it’s what the people might need this summer.”
His description is apt. Listening to the record is a journey, an 11-track vacation to diamond-sand beaches and crystal-blue waves. Each song is a self-contained slice of paradise; “It’s three minutes of complete escapism,” Macfarlane says, “and then a fleeting moment that you appreciate as it disappears.”